The grade 5.10 is the vanilla ice cream of American climbing. The tens of thousands of 5.10s out there range from elegant beauties to piles of choss. They can be long, short and in between. Trad, sport and sporty. They are a measure of competence for climbers new to the sport and the official gateway into the double-digits of our grade scale. They are incredibly versatile—and, depending on where you climb, 5.10s are either warm-ups, or what you warm up for.
The Gunks in New Paltz, New York, are home to many fantastic and classic 5.10s. The area is the eastern birthplace of the grade, and the multi-tiered quartz conglomerate lends itself to masterpiece routes in the 5.5 to 5.10 range. Gunks’ 5.10s are guaranteed to be thought-provoking; they are not clip-ups, and they are not easy. I don’t care if you can dawdle on 5.13a’s at the Red River Gorge for 45 minutes, or if you’ve got that 28-move 5.12c blue route at the gym wired. A Gunks’ 5.10 will give you pause.
Certainly, when considering something as unfathomable as “the best 5.10”—there are so many good ones—you can’t equate a route like the 10-pitch Grand Wall of the Squamish Chief with the single-pitch Lunatic Fringe in Yosemite. A route with a dozen great pitches of 5.10 has to trump an 80-foot climb, no matter how perfect those 80 feet are.
But here, at my home crag of the Gunks, what is lacking in length is made up in pure move-for-move quality and overall experience. While no Gunks route could ever hope to match something as grand as the Grand Wall, I would put Fat City Direct (5.10+) up against any single pitch of 5.10 I’ve climbed on any route, anywhere.
On my first trip to the Gunks in the 1970s, I stood beneath Fat City Direct’s impossibly large and beautifully orange overhangs, thinking, “I hope I’m never good enough to have to go up there.” The route honestly looks like an inverted staircase, and you’d swear anything going through that terrain has to be 5.13. Think of it this way: You’re getting an E-ticket 5.13 experience for the bargain price of 5.10. What a deal.
Fat City Direct boasts the infamous “+” suffix—5.10+—an omen, familiar to and loathed by most U.S. trad climbers because they know they are about to be sandbagged. In many cases, it’s better to go for a route containing the next grade up with a “-” suffix, as it will be an easier chore.
The original (non-direct) line, Fat City, was an aid route first ascended by Dick Williams and Dave Craft in 1966. In the late 1960s John Stannard freed the upper crux roof, after following the weaving original line up to it. In 1970 Stannard and John Bragg pioneered the first ascent of Fat City Direct . They just climbed straight up the damn wall, a classic Comicci directissima all the way.
Like almost every Gunks route, Fat City Direct gives you bouldery cruxes followed by ample rests. Start out with the lower roof and make sure you’re careful with your pro and rope drag. If not, you certainly will hate life in another 60 feet. Once beyond the entry 5.9, relax, take in the view, and get ready for action. The slab rears to vertical capped with an overhang. The pro is good enough, for sure, but requires a modicum of ability to place. Pull through the bulge, situate yourself under the overhang and get some gear in the horizontals for the traverse left to clear the roof. Past this, another good rest awaits.
With protection below your feet, make your way to the largest overhang. A series of sloping holds leads seven feet along a tier in the overhang and lands you at the lip.
“The Pin,” one of the most notorious pieces of fixed pro in a land full of rusting iron, protrudes from the lip like a bad joke. There is no way to clip it until you commit to the moves. But don’t worry: if you get here, you’ve already done the technical crux, and this part shouldn’t present too many problems. Just don’t blow it. Climb carefully, breathe and clip the piton. After you establish yourself over the roof, an enjoyable 30 feet of 5.8 overhangs and jugs leads to the top. On top, anchor at the tree and revel in ticking one of the best pitches of its grade on earth.
Russ Clune is a true lifer. He has been practicing this sport for 34 years, and has climbed in about 40 countries around the world. He says he feels lucky to have learned to climb in the Gunks during a time when it was prominent on the world scene. He still climbs about 180 days per year, cranking at a high level.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 190 (December 2010).